When You Have Lots of Unpublished Writing in Boxes

Unpublished Writing

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Today’s guest post is by Lisa Bennett (@LisaPBennett). Read her earlier post, 3 Insights to Writing About Social Issues.

My mother kept meticulous files full of articles and brochures about the places she wanted to travel to, although there was no indication she would ever get to any of them. My father was deeply uncomfortable leaving home and wanted to venture no further than the garden out back or the workbench in the garage, and she lacked the daring to strike out on her own. As a teenager, I looked on my mother’s files with disdain and, later, with pity. How sad, I thought, to just move papers about and never really do the things you want to do. How tragic, to lock up a life in a box.

Many years later, I came to see that I too had much of my life in a box. I had—and still have—file cabinets and straw baskets and big black binders and cardboard boxes and computer files and even their backups. These files are filled with my writing. Writing about falling in love and having my heart broken; about adventures in sex and sexuality; about getting married and heading to divorce; about becoming a mother and holding my children in my arms for the first time and, later, worrying about the complex and unstable world they will inherit; about caring for my beloved mother when dementia struck, witnessing the awful progression, being with her when she took her last breath, not knowing how to go on, and finding a way to go on; about my struggles with confidence and other secrets and lies; about my spiritual questing, my deep love of life, and my fear of dying before I wholly and fully live; about friendship and the beauty of yellow tulips in a vase; about the miracle of having just the right people appear in my life at just the right time, and longing, longing, longing—to break free.

The walls we construct (what Doris Lessing called The Prisons We Choose to Live Inside) may crumble of their own accord but usually, I think, something else happens. We stay stuck. A little light shines in. Or, one day, we find the courage to scale the walls, peek over and take the plunge. That is what I think we secretly most want to do. And it is what I am doing now—since I began a project several months ago to review all my unpublished writing, identify what may be worth sharing, turn them into publication-ready pieces, and send them out.

This work stops my heart and fills it at the same time. I mean to say it terrifies me. But feeling this terror is better than feeling the deadening of my spirit that comes from keeping it all locked up. Because this, in the end, is what I have to give: Words about life, my life, and the common threads that unite all our lives—the experience of longings and disappointments, successes and failures, love and loss. And in an age when it seems as if we are all expected to sell our work and ourselves, with a bright shiny ribbon on it and a promise of here is how you too can find success, happiness, and love—it takes a bit of courage, I think, to offer one’s bare truth. But then again, it is the simple truths—offered by writers, often in books of limited commercial appeal but timeless value—that have meant the most to me. It is what we writers do: conjure the words that help people understand, maybe just a little more, our shared and uncontainable experience of life. But it only works when the words expressed in private are let out into the world and given a life of their own.

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration and tagged , , .

Lisa Bennett is co-author of Ecoliterate, a contributor to The Compassionate Instinct, A Place at the Table, and other books. Read her blog here or find her on Twitter at @LisaPBennett.

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Carol Coven Grannick

Just the reminder I needed…Thanks, Lisa!

Glynis Charlton

Me too … I even have an area on my website called Inside The Box, inviting people to lift the lid and read draft extracts – so you’ve reminded me that I need to lift it myself and attack what’s actually in there … Thanks!

Victor Powell

I have a similar story about my father. When he passed way when I was 11, we found a box of his unpublished works that no one even know he had written. In my second career as a writer, it has been the impetus for me to complete and publish my works. Unfortunately, I was not in the position to keep any of the stuff my father wrote, but it has served me now to at the very least, complete unfinished works.

I have novels and collections of poetry and stories – all in boxes in an upstairs closet.. Thank you for reminding me to dig out my treasures and dress them up for the world. You made my day.

Judith Henry

Lisa, your words struck a deep chord with me. I’ve been writing for years, but feared that someone would yell, “Phony!” if I dared called myself a writer. And then seven years ago, I began caring for both my aging parents. Keeping copious notes on sticky pads, napkins and scrap paper, I documented the experience, which was sad and joyous, dark and funny, often at the same time. When my parents passed away, I realized this was a story that needed to be written and shared. The book will be out sometime this month and I’ve taken all my other… Read more »

Judith Henry

It’s titled, “The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving: A Practical Memoir. ” Sixty-two years in the making, I see it as a love story, wrapped in a how-to, inside a memoir!

Such a delight to meet you via Jane’s blog.


This is me at this very moment in time. It is overwhelming.

[…] When You Have Lots of Unpublished Writing in Boxes via Jane Friedman […]

Ernie Zelinski

I am quite successful as both a traditionally published writer and a self-published one with over 875,000 copies of my books sold worldwide.

Even so, I have several books completed that I have not had published. This quotation applies:

“Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.”
— Sylvia Plath


Thank you for this! I have shoe boxes full of stories and artifacts from my life that I just came across during a move. I have old milk crates filled with notebooks and binders. Then there is all the computer files and drafts and journals, all full of words. My hope is that I will “review all my unpublished writing, identify what may be worth sharing, turn them into publication-ready pieces, and send them out,” as you put it. This is one of my goals for the next year, so that “the words expressed in private are let out into… Read more »

[…] When You Have Lots of Unpublished Writing in Boxes by @LisaPBennett via @JaneFriedman […]


Love this, Lisa! I too have finished manuscripts just sitting. My problem is what to do with them? Who will publish? After years of agents asking and ultimately rejecting, do I just need to publish them myself? I resist – maybe bc it’s so scary to go it alone. Needed to read your post today – thank you and happy mother’s day 🙂


What a wonderful post – so rich and inspiring! Good luck with your quest!


Thank you for an excellent and motivational article! Tackling my overflowing writing files,so that I can at least close the drawer, has been on my “to do” list forever. Perhaps now I can allow myself to trash piles of useless junk,and make room for sparkling new ideas. While I’m at it, I can revive those almost-published gems, reread inspirational articles, frame the acceptance letters, wallpaper my bathroom with nasty rejection letters,and generally attempt to finish a lot of unfinished business….right after I check my email, that is….(wink) lol

[…] When You Have Lots of Unpublished Writing in Boxes […]

[…] can suffer from time and resource management issues. Lisa Bennett demonstrates what to do with all your writing languishing in boxes, Drew Chial shows how writers can keep time from slipping away, Kevan Lee lists 50 amazing […]

Essay Maker

Thanks for this great and informative article, It’s very helpful for peoples. I’ve bookmark this post.. Thanks for sharing this……

[…] (This post originally appeared as a guest blog on JaneFriedman.com) […]


[…] What do you do when you have lots of unpublished writing in boxes? […]

Bruce Terrell

Thank you Lisa for starting this conversation and thank you everyone for your comments. I can relate to many of the feelings you all have shared. Writing is one of my greatest passions and I usually spend hours every day creating new material. It is like I am surfing in very wide groove which my energy keeps flowing into. The thought of publishing is always there and that project often feels like turning an ocean liner around. Creating new material is so blissfully easy. Publishing is such an unknown for me. I used to write a lot on Facebook and… Read more »

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Bethany Reid

Oh, my — you just described my files and shelves. Baskets, binders, file cabinets full of writing. I will be visiting your blog to learn more. “How” does one review, polish up and send out old work????